'Pawnbroker' Inspires Serious View on Bigotry: Limbacher's Observations
In the Dearborn Pressa week ago, our neighbor's theater critic, James L. Lim-
bacher, reviewing the great film, "The Pawnbroker," calling it "a masterpiece" —
which is what it is — went to considerable length to describe the film and incidentally
to recall anti-Jewish remarks made at a gathering in his community.
Both because of his interesting analysis of "The Pawnbroker," as well as his
reference to the unfortunate comments on the occasion he recalls, his review is worth
quoting in full. Here it is:
Several years ago at a Michigan Week luncheon, one of Dearborn's best-
known businessmen spent most of our eating time telling me about the "damn
Jews" and how they were ruining the morals of our children in Dearborn by show-
ing dirty films in our four movie theaters.
He even told me that he was going to start his own theater so our children
could see nothing but pure films, rather than the "Jewish filth" which was show-
ing in town.
Another businessman and a local clergyman at the same table nodded in
agreement, but I'm afraid his attitude merely disgusted and revolted me.
What reminded me of the incident was the coming to town of the Ely
Landau film, THE PAWNBROKER, at the Camelot Theater (as well as at the
Studio North Theater). It is a film about a Jewish pawnbroker in New York's
Spanish Harlem and the effect of his past in Europe on his present existence.
I hope that this businessman goes to see THE PAWNBROKER (although
I'm certain he wouldn't dirty his hands with a really good film) so he might see
what being a Jew really means.
THE PAWNBROKER does just this. And in the leading role, Rod Steiger
far surpasses anything he has ever done on the screen. He is so right and so
brilliant that it is difficult to believe that he is an actor and not a real pawn-
broker who has experienced a life of heartbreak and terror.
Under Sidney Lumet's sensitive direction, the life of the pawnbroker unfolds
before us—his expensive house in a New York suburb, his callous daughter and her
family, the tragic characters in the New York ghetto where he conducts his
business—in an endless but fascinating series of images.
If his present life were all the film presented, it would be an ordinary film
indeed. But by interweaving his past, the film becomes a masterpiece of motion
. Lumet has inserted almost. subliminal shots of the pawnbroker's past in a
complex series of flashbacks which break new ground in style and technique.
Not only does the pawnbroker remember the wonderful days with his wife
and family before World War II (and these are all done in graceful slow motion)
but he remembers the terrifying days in which his family was torn apart in a
German concentration camp, giving relevance to his present-day attitude toward
The film has been given the usual "condemned" rating by the Legion of
Decency because of a scene which shows the pawnbroker's wife in the nude.
But so important was this scene to the dramatic thread of the story that the
enforcers of the Motion Picture Code insisted that the scene not be cut.
The scene shows the pawnbroker's nude wife sitting in a concentration camp
cell awaiting her fate in the form of a Nazi officer while he is forced to watch.
The utter degradation of the scene makes it a scene which will go down
as one of the most emotional ones in film history. Without the scene, the entire
film would be thrown out of joint.
The use of parallel images as visual counterpoints will stun any adult movie-
goer with their terrifying beauty. When a man's upraised hands remind the pawn-
broker of a moment in his past, the film cuts immediately to a group of upraised
hands in the concentration camp where rings are being taken off the fingers of
the victims before they are killed.
• During a subway ride, the pawnbroker's thoughts suddenly cut to a "cattle
car" taking his family to the camp and he has to watch his young son being
trampled by the prisoners in their desperate attempt to escape their fate.
'Pawnbroker's as Vehicle in Tracing
Root of Prejudice ... Goldberg Credo
Negates Prejudices of Antagonists
All these images are intercut so brilliantly that the cumulative effect is
The hand-picked cast — including Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Juano
Hernandez, Jaime Sanchez and many others — give credibility to their roles and
act as perfect foils for the performance of Rod Steiger, who has already won the
"best actor" prize at the Berlin Film Festival.
On the basis of the films I have seen so far this year, it looks like he has
a good chance to receive the Oscar as well.
If you don't see another adult film this year, I urge you to see THE PAWN-
BROKER, no matter what your prejudices, your religious background or your
It shows how far the motion picture has progressed as a medium of expres-
sion and what can happen when great artists take a simple subject and create a
work of brilliance and grandeur.
If THE PAWNBROKER doesn't stir even the most jaded moviegoer, then
I doubt if any contemporary film will. I just can't recommend the film highly
enough, so please don't let it leave town without seeing it. It is by far the finest
film released so far in 1965, and also the most important one.
Those with experience about the reactions of many people to their neighbors,
to those of other faiths—those with knowledge about fearful men and women who will
not speak up when their fellow-humans are assailed—will not be too surprised by the
incident recorded in the Limbacher review.
Only a week ago, this commentator reviewed Prof. William Sheridan Allen's
"The Nazi Seizure of Power—The Experience of a Single German Town, 1930-1935,"
and he found it necessary to call attention to the Jewish attitudes in that town,
stating in his review:
Reviewing the historic events, the author explains that as against the 120
Jews who lived in • Thalburg in 1930 there were 102 a generation ago: "Most Jews
in Thalburg were small businessmen: cattle brokers, grocery or clothing store
owners, and artisans. One Jewish merchant celebrated, in 1932, the 230th anniver-
sary of the founding of his haberdashery . . There was no Jewish section in
Thalburg; Jews were well assimilated into Thalburg society. The town had very
little anti-Semitism before the advent of Nazism. What there was expressed itself
only in jokes and slight feelings of generalized distaste—in other words, the usual
heritage of medieval Europe. Jews belonged to the shooting societies, patriotic
clubs, and choral groups, and if they were differentiated it was by class, not
religion. Some were elected to offices in their clubs, some were very highly re-
spected, all were accepted as a normal part of the town's life."
Then came the Nazi propaganda, the pressures that resulted in the banning
of Jews, in their being ousted from offices, in neighbors refraining from speaking
with old friends. There was the boycott against all Jewish businesses, the posting
of Nazis at Jewish stores to prevent residents from purchasing merchandise from
Jews. There were the published calls: "Germany will force Judah to his knees!"
Soon "the new state of affairs became a fact of lVe" and was accepted: "Thal-
burg's Jews were simply excluded from the community at large. At the same time
the Nazis undertook their most Herculean task; the atomization of the commu-
nity at large."
Indeed, in some respects the United States does not differ, as the Limbacher
article suggests. There may not be anti-Semitism, but there is that joke, "The usual
heritage of medieval Europe." In the case of the Dearborn Michigan Week luncheon,
it was the lack of courage, the failure on the part of a minister and of businessmen to
call the bluff of a bigot who spoke about the "damn Jews." If he were asked who were
these "damn Jews," none of them probably would be able to point a finger at a
single individual or group. But there was this heritage of medieval Europe.
We are not worried. Don't we always survive the jokes and the slurs? But we
must not overlook the origin: the heritage from the ages of bigotry. And let us never
forget that there are always good men — Limbacher himself proves it — who do
A salute to James L. Limbacher! He handled his subject well. He refused to
dignify anti-Semites. And he certainly gave its just due to "The Pawnbroker." Let it
be seen by all who have an opportunity to witness the great film spectacle.
Was the Bishop Frightened?
M. P. Sydney Silverman: A Champion of a Cause
Lebanon's Maronites, the Catholics who claim to be the majority
of the population of that country, have been quite friendly to Jews
and Israel. Their religious leaders often spoke in cordial terms about
the neighbor whom other Arab states would destroy.
There were some among the Catholic leaders in Lebanon who
approved of the Vatican action on the question of deicide.
But there also are some frightened men among them, and a
Detroit guest, the Most Rev. Elias Kurban, Archbishop of Tripoli,
Lebanon, may be among them.
Is it because he preached here in a Syrian church last week that
he told the Free Press church editor, Hiley Ward, that he felt it was
a mistake for the Vatican Council to say Jews were not responsible
for Christ's crucifixion? And it must have been some sort of political
pressure that caused him to "confirm the general reaction of the Arab
Near East on the appointment of Arthur Goldberg as the U. S. delegate
to the United Nations."
Indeed, fears are the cause of much of the world's ills, and Israel
gets a portion of the hatred that accumulates among the fearful.
Who Succeeded in Banning Capital Punishment
Why Consult Outsiders on an Internal Matter?
A Detroit News editorial correctly rebuked our State Department
for conferring with Arabs on the question of President Johnson's
selection of Arthur Goldberg for the high UN post.
Since when are outsiders consulted on internal American matters?
It is because of such unwise kowtowing to bigots that troubles
are created for us in the Middle East.
Ambassador Goldberg's Credo
Ambassador Goldberg had a definitive word on the score of his
Jewishness for the cynics and the panicky who were worried about
the selection of a Jew and a Zionist, and for the Arabs who are
motivated by hatred and enmity. Said Goldberg in his statement before
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which speedily confirmed
his nomination by the President:
"I shall be guided by the doctrine that in this pluralistic
world, containing people of different religious beliefs and nations
of differing political systems, all nations are to be treated with
dignity, respect, fairness and equality. This is the policy of the
United States as I understand it. And that is my own personal
This isn't a faith to be negated. And it happens to be the Zionist
plea. Are these the principles that the antagonists seek to destroy?
On the strength of such values, the Goldberg case is strong and the
wisdom of his selection is unquestioned. And the enemies of justice
may well cringe upon reading this Goldberg credo.
2—Friday, July 30, 1965
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
Meet Sydney Silverman, a remarkable man who has championed
many causes, many unpopular, some popular, but who has fearlessly
followed the dictates of his conscience.
He is as short as this friend and admirer, has more hair on
his head than most men his age and he combs it with special care,
has grown a beard and he remains as upright as he was two decades
ago when he was a guest in our city.
He is as brilliant an orator as he was on his visit here as well
as when we were together again at the World Jewish Congress ses-
sions in Stockholm six years ago.
Now he adds to his record a great accomplishment: the credit
of having seen through the British House of Commons, of which
he has been a Labor member for more than 30 years, the bill to
abolish capital punishment.
Several years ago, Arthur Koestler wrote a book about capital
punishment in England. He pleaded for its abolishment. Others labored
for that cause with him. But it took the courage, the eloquence, the
persistence of Sydney Silverman to accomplish the task of seeing
the abolition measure through Commons.
It is more than a coincidence that a strong stand against the
death penalty was taken by the U.S. Department of Justice, Deputy
Attorney General Ramsey Clark having written to Congress only last
Friday that "modern penology . affords far greater benefits to
society than the death penalty, which is inconsistent with its go•ls."
The action by the House of Commons calls attention to a local
foolishness. A rabbi, who was photographed wearing tefillin, was in the
limelight two weeks ago: he advocated Michigan's resumption of
capital punishment after 118 years of humanitarianism. Michigan
has retained the distinction of being among the most progressive
states in the Union. There have been proposals, time and again, that
we reintroduce the death penalty, but our citizens are too wise, too
human, to resort to an ancient code.
Jewish principles militate against capital punishment. Even when
Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death there were some, under
the leadership of the late Dr. Martin Buber, who pleaded against it.
There is an ancient principle in Jewish tradition that if a Sanhedrin
had approved a death penalty once in seventy years it would be
branded a murderous body. But a Detroit rabbi has gained notoriety:
he not only advocated capital punishment but called also for corporal
Dear friend Sydney Silverman now is striving, as he has done
for many years, to abolish caning in the British Navy. Let's hope he'll
succeed. All glory to him. Will his good work have a wholesome
bearing on the sensation-sermonizing local rabbi? We're a bit skeptical
on that score.
to End National
House Immigration Subcommittee
on July 22 voted out a new immi-
gration reform bill to end the
National Origins Quota System and
to allow about 50,000 additional
immigrants toenter annually. The
bill, acted upon after a three-year
delay, embodied a number of
liberalizing features sought by
Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
The old quota system would be
terminated by July 1, 1968. A new
system of preference would be
established with the top 20 per cent
going to children of U. S. citizens
if the offspring are over 21. An
annual ceiling of 170,000
grants would be created for cola.;
tries which had quotas alloted
under the old system, and they
would be treated equally instead
of under the old discriminatory
system in which more immigrants
were permitted from some nations
Policy toward foreigners who
are close relatives of American
citizens would be liberalized. Par.
ents, spouses and children of U.S.
citizens would be admitted without
regard to the ceiling of 170,000. Ten
per cent of admissions would be
available to scientists, musician
artists, and others whose presence
would be in the cultural interest
of the United States.
The subcommittee voted for the
measure by 8 to 0. One member
abstained. The bill now goes to
the full Judiciary Committee. Dip
partisan support appears assured
and favorable action by Congress